Montreal is a city of ghosts. Usually when I tell people this, I’m bitterly referring to the fact that while I was living abroad for over a decade, most of my Montreal friends went and moved away  — or, even worse — grew up. After recently participating in the online version of the Haunted Montreal tour, I learned that Montreal is indeed a city of ghosts, but in the more literal sense.

Due to the latest round of COVID-19 red zone lockdown measures (Tabarnak!), the always-popular Haunted Montreal ghost tours have been, like much of our 2020 lives, relegated to purgatory of Zoom video-conferencing.

The tour started with Donovan King, founder of Haunted Montreal, standing in front of a green screen that at first cycled through campy Halloween backdrops.

As the presentation got rolling, King presented an introduction of Montreal’s early founding and colonial history, and why that has perhaps led to our humble island home being such a haunted place.

The bulk of the hour-long presentation involved King recounting four vignettes about Montreal’s haunted past, illustrated by historical images on the green screen behind him. The four tales were drawn from a mixture of the various in-person tours usually offered by Haunted Montreal: Haunted Downtown, Haunted Mountain, Haunted Griffintown, paranormal investigations of local haunted sites, and the always-popular Haunted Pub Crawl.

Being a history nerd, I appreciated learning about these macabre Montreal legends, most of which I had not heard before. These stories were in steady hands with Donovan King, who is a seasoned storyteller.

King’s background in both acting and history makes him the ideal vessel to disseminate these creepy snippets of Montreal lore. His delivery was part authoritative history professor and part P.T. Barnum, complete with makeshift sound effects and even a minor jump scare or two.

The tales included that of the ill-fated tale of Simon McTavish, and how his death led to sightings of cadavers tobogganing down the slopes of 1820’s Mount Royal. King went on to detail how much of Montreal’s shiny downtown was built on burial sites — both Native American and early European, as well as mass burial pits from Cholera outbreaks in the 1800s. A thumbnail sketch of Montreal’s cemeteries was also full of welcome factoids.

The climax of the presentation came with a recounting of the tragic story of Headless Mary Gallagher. The murdered prostitute is said to still haunt a certain intersection in Griffintown on the anniversary of her grisly death, every seven years.

The online Haunted Montreal Ghost tours will be running all winter long, with a special presentation being held on Halloween night at 7pm. Regularly updated stories about Montreal’s creepy past can also be found on the Haunted Montreal blog. I look forward to participating in tours led by some of the other talented Haunted Montreal presenters.

Oh…an odd thing happened just after the tour (Insert X-files theme whistle here). I closed my laptop and sat on a couch in the basement of a 100-year-old NDG house, listening to the radio and taking notes on the tour.

Suddenly, I heard static, and an old rock song from the 1960s replaced the newscast I had been listening to — the radio changed channels all on its own — which is something it has never done before. I experienced full-body goosebumps, turned off the radio, and ran upstairs like a terrified five-year-old.

So if you do take the tour…turn on your radio afterwards and see what happens. Warning: results may vary (insert Vincent Price’s Thriller laughter here)

Full disclosure: Jason C. McLean, Editor-in-Chief of Forget the Box, is a tour guide at Haunted Montreal. Matt Poll, this post’s author, is not.

The Haunted Montreal Virtual Ghost Tour is currently running in English and French. Visit hauntedmontreal.com for more

Featured Image: Haunted Montreal

It’s been a few months since we’ve been able to have a drink and check out a band with others in public. It’s been considerably longer since we’ve been able to do that at the Jailhouse Rock Café.

The now-legendary Montreal music venues closed its cell door at 30 Mont-Royal Ouest for the last time in 2001, so we’re talking almost two decades. Now, thanks to a new book by Domenic Castelli (if you remember the Jailhouse, you know who he is) you can relive the scene.

The Jailhouse Rock Café – Show Posters 1988-2001 Montreal is exactly what it sounds like and then some. It’s a visual history of the venue from its early days as Bar La Terrasse and then as Jailhouse under original owner Jacques Corbo to when Castelli convinced his brother David to buy the place in 1998 and the Castelli Bros moved everything around, turning it into the venue most of us remember, and right up to when the landlord refused to renew the lease.

Jailhouse was mostly known as a punk venue, and for good reason. Many a local and touring punk band graced their stage (and wrote on the backstage wall).

But the venue also featured rockabilly, ska, rock, you name it, they had it at some point. They even had burlesque, vaudeville and horror theatre all rolled into one.

Full disclosure: I was part of that particular show, Dead Dolls Cabaret, and yes, some of our posters are in the book. I also went to other shows at Jailhouse, some where I had friends in one of the bands and some just because.

While I only really started going to local shows in the later years of Jailhouse, the whole book is full of memories for me. That’s because in those days, you didn’t have to actually go to the show to remember the poster.

Show posters were part of Montreal’s landscape. You couldn’t walk around the Plateau without seeing a bunch of them.

Whether they were made by a professional graphic designer or the bassist who also happened to draw, they were art. A lost art form that comes alive again in this book.

While there are plenty of photos, both on stage and back stage, as well as the odd set list, newspaper listing and bit of text explaining things, the show posters are key. And they look great, even on a computer screen.

Of course this is meant to be a physical coffee table book, the kind you invite a few friends over to look at over drinks while listening to music from the Jailhouse era.

UPDATE: You can now order the physical book or the book with a Jailhouse T-Shirt or Hoodie or the e-book (also available in an Amazon Kindle Edition).

Featured image courtesy of Domenic Castelli

We are in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 is ravaging the United States and the European Union and other countries are slowly easing their lockdown restrictions as doctors, epidemiologists, paramedics, and other essential workers scramble to get it under control.

As a member of the immune-compromised I have been extremely careful. I haven’t been to a store, restaurant, or bar in months, and I don’t let anyone in my home unless they wash their hands, remove their shoes, and keep two meters apart during their visit. When I go out, it’s always straight to a car and to a private home where I am extra careful to minimize physical contact and wash my hands regularly. When I’m in any public space, however briefly, I always wear a mask.

That said, while it is highly unlikely that I have COVID-19, it’s not impossible. I am having flu-like symptoms that started with a mild sore throat and a little chest congestion.

After mulling it over, I decided to bite the bullet and get myself tested yesterday. If you’re having any cold or flu-like symptoms, have been to a bar recently, or come in contact with anyone who tested positive for COVID-19, you should get tested too.

Not sure how? I’m here to help.

This article is about how to get tested for COVID-19 in Quebec and what to expect. I hope you’ll be encouraged to at the very least get assessed to see if being tested is necessary. We’re all in this together, so let’s keep each other safe and informed.

First step is to call one of the Quebec government’s COVID-19 information lines, depending on your region. Not sure if you should get tested? Tell the phone operator and they will transfer you to a nurse who will assess you.

If she thinks you need to get tested for COVID-19, she will ask you for your postal code, find the nearest test center, and book you an appointment that best fits your schedule. You will also need to provide your phone number, Medicare number, and email address.

You should get an appointment confirmation by email almost immediately. You can also expect to get multiple reminders by text message in the day or two before the appointment. They will give you the option of cancelling your appointment online.

While it’s not my place to tell anyone what to do, I will say that it is better to know one way or the other than to not know if you have COVID-19, so keep that appointment.

Bring a mask with you and be prepared to wait in line outside the test centre. The one closest to me was at 5800 Cote des Neiges in Montreal, in a sort of construction trailer in the parking lot of the Jewish General Hospital. Every once in a while someone in full mask and protection gear will come out and ask if anyone has an appointment. If you do, they will call you in.

Once inside, you are immediately required to put on a fresh mask and sanitize your hands. Then you are sent to a waiting area with chairs divided by walls to ensure social distancing.

You’ll feel a bit like a sideshow display, but it’s comfortable. The ambiance of the test centre feels like the pop up lab the government set up in the movie ET and you will be required to sanitize your hands nearly every step of the way.

After a few minutes, the worker who called you in will sanitize the phone allowing you to speak to the administrator who is protected by a wall with a window, not unlike the setup in some prisons. You are required to press your Medicare card to the window for the admin worker who will register you, which includes confirming your email address and emergency contacts. They will ask if you’re ok getting a negative result by email as well.

You are then sent back to the waiting area. I cannot vouch for wait times, as I know they vary, but I was called in less than thirty minutes.

A nurse in full protective gear will then bring you to a room near the exit. Another nurse similarly dressed will be seated at a computer and will ask you questions about travel, who you have been in contact with, and what your symptoms are. They will then give you a sheet with a number you can call if you don’t get your results in two to five days and your file number.

If the results are negative you will get an email. If they’re positive, expect a phone call.

Then the dreaded moment comes: the nurse asks you to lower your mask below your nose, holds out a giant flexible swab, and tells you to tilt your head back.

You know that expression “Mind if I pick your brain”? That’s exactly what the test itself feels like. You think that swab can’t possibly go further up your nose, that there simply isn’t room, and yet it does.

However, the test is quick, and the nurses are as gentle with administering such an uncomfortable test as can be. Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, the swab is out and you’re free to go with your information sheet and instructions to self-isolate for five days.

You are warned that the phone call when and if it comes will say “Private Number” in your caller ID and won’t leave a message. A healthcare worker will then instruct you to sanitize your hands immediately before you go out the exit. You are then free to go home to self-isolation.

That said, if you are having any symptoms resembling a cold, flu, or sinus infection and/or have been anywhere or in contact with anyone that puts you at risk of catching COVID-19, get yourself tested. The comfort of knowing one way or the other far outweighs the speedy discomfort of the test itself.

We’re all in this together. Stay safe, stay sane, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

Featured image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

A few years ago, there was a push to rename Lionel-Groulx Metro after late Montreal jazz legend Oscar Peterson. Now that movement is back, currently in the form of a petition.

Of course it has returned now. With statues to racists and colonialists toppling all around the world, and in particular in the US, people are re-evaluating not only who needs to go, but who needs to be honoured instead.

Oscar Peterson was an eight-time Grammy winner praised by Duke Ellington as the “Maharaja of the keyboard” despite the keys only being his second instrument with a career that lasted over 60 years. He also grew up and honed his talents in Little Burgundy, one of the two communities directly served by the metro station.

As for the current namesake, Lionel Groulx, he was a vocal member of a far-right Quebec nationalist group from 1929-1939. Some, most notably Esther Deslile and Mordecai Richler, argue that the group, Groulx included, were borderline fascist and quite anti-Semetic.

Groulx also opposed Jewish immigration to Quebec in the time leading up to World War II and wanted people to boycott Jewish-owned Montreal businesses.

Was Groulx a slave-owner, murderous colonialist like Amherst, or avowed Nazi? No. Was he a virulent anti-Semite? Sure seems like it. Is he, at best, a problematic figure? Yes. Does he have anything to do with Little Burgundy or Montreal’s Sud-Ouest? Absolutely not.

So why name one of the most used metro stops in the city after him? There’s a small avenue bearing his name that intersects with Atwater Avenue right in front of the metro and the STM likes to name their stations after streets or places.

So, a quick fix would be for the city to rename Avenue Lionel Groulx in Little Burgundy Avenue Oscar Peterson and then the STM would have no excuse not to follow. Or, they could simply name the green area surrounding the metro Place Oscar Peterson, as with the area surrounding Place-St-Henri Metro.

Renaming a metro station won’t be erasing Lionel Groulx. There’s also a CEGEP named after him and a street in Saint-Leonard.

But isn’t Oscar Peterson already honoured? Yes, Concordia’s concert hall on the Loyola Campus bears his name, as it should, but that’s at the western end of NDG, two metro stops and a bus ride from the community he grew up in.

Shouldn’t our metro stations and other landmarks honour our local communities and, in particular, our racialzied communities? Why does some white Quebec nationalist theorist with problematic views get a Montreal Metro station in between Little Burgundy and St-Henri named after him when there is clearly a better, more locally representative and internationally renown option?

It’s not just about removing, it’s about respecting and reflecting our communities. We need Metro Oscar-Peterson. If you agree, sign the petition.

Featured image of Peterson in 1977 by Tom Marcello via WikiMedia Commons

Protests against systemic racism and police brutality continue as thousands gathered at Place Emilie Gamelin last Sunday.

Protestors spent their sunny afternoon marching peacefully in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, reignited by the death of African American man George Floyd, who died in police custody for a harmless infraction on May 25 after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes as he pleaded for his life.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Floyd’s death sparked international outrage, with protests against police brutality and systemic racism uniting folks from across the world to take part in actions towards police reform.

Montreal’s second major Black Lives Matter protest since Floyd’s death, the event initially sparked local backlash after organizers, Nous sommes la ligue des noirs nouvelle génération, invited the Montreal Police (SPVM) Chief to join the protest. The decision was contested by locals, and a day later the invitation was withdrawn. In an open Facebook message, the organization wrote that “citizens are terrified of the idea that [the police chiefs] will be there.”

Still, the invitation did not stop police from teargassing the crowd around 7pm.

At 11am, after a two-hour solidarity event reserved for the Black community, the thousands of protesters, most following organizers’ directions to stay masked, began to move downtown.

Organizers offered free masks and gloves to protestors to maintain safety. For many, it was the first major outing since the COVID-19 pandemic halted large scale collective gathering at the end of March, though with a crowd so large it was difficult to follow the two meter social distance requirements.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Most protests held signs, with different messages; some more humorous, shedding light on the unity and togetherness of the situation while others alluded to the seriousness of the crimes. A simple sign, “8:46”, paid homage to Floyd’s death; it represents the amount of time Floyd suffocated under the officer’s knee.

Most protestors dispersed around 2pm, where the march ended at Dorchester Square, though many continued into the day to march around the downtown area, eventually coming face to face with a wall of police in full riot gear, shields, face masks, and rubber bullet guns.

Stanley Courages, a protestor at the event, said he joined in support of the Black Lives Matter movements. To him, it’s a symbol that things are going bad, “and going bad for a lot of people,” he said.

“The system is sick, but we all know that. Nobody has the nerve to say it out loud,” he continued. “This is nice to see, Black, White, Latin, a little bit of Asian… it’s nice to see all kinds of people. […] Somehow, some way, people can relate to it, the sadness, whatever the problem they have with this kind of system. So I’m here for that symbol.”

The spotlight is on what he calls the Black movement because Black folks have been put at the bottom since colonization, he said. But Black folks aren’t the only ones suffering, he explained.

“The black movement – the same thing as the Black Lives Matter – that’s what I see as a symbol that everyone is not okay with this system,” he said.
Pascale Lavache, another protestor at the event and who is Black, said she is marching for her nine year old son.

“I want him to not have to march when he’s my age, when he’s grown,” she said.

“I’m happy to see there’s lot of the youth is present,” she continued. “it’s not just black people, it’s everybody. Everybody feels the injustice. Everybody feels the injustice, and I feel like this is a great movement and I’m happy to see everybody is standing up for this injustice that touches everybody. So I’m really marching for myself.”

To her, the Black Lives Matter movement is about standing up for what is right, and standing up for equal rights for everybody. “I think people need to understand that this is not just for [Black folks], it’s for everyone. And it needs to stop, this needs to stop. It’s a disservice for everybody when there’s no justice.”

Though most protestors broke up around 2pm, protests continued around the downtown area until around 7pm. It was then that police opened fire on the remaining protectors without warning.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

The use of tear gas, a chemical weapon that is banned in war, has been criticized by healthcare experts. It irritates the tear ducts, causing coughing, and potential irritation of the upper respiratory tract; all symptoms that could further spread the COVID-19 virus, experts say.

Already a violent weapon, its use at peaceful protests in the Canadian epicentre of the pandemic is problematic at the very least. Local healthcare professionals have called for police to cease its’ use – to no avail.

Though the protests have shed light on the systemic racism present in the Canadian justice system, Premier Francois Legault said publicly that systemic racism doesn’t exist in Quebec. The thousands of protestors that hit the streets last Sunday would disagree.

From racial profiling, economic insecurity, and a lack of representation in all facets, Quebec’s longstanding whitewashing of its’ history and culture and xenophobia; including the contested Bill 62 which bands all religious symbols in public, prove a different, darker reality.

One way to ease the injustice, Lavache said, is for there to be equal representation at every level – in both media, politics, and police force.

“We need to have equal representation, whether it’s for women, LGBTQ,” she said. “Everyone needs to be represented. The more there’s equal representation, the more there will be justice.”

2020 came in without much fanfare for me. This despite a friend and I planning all the things we would do to bring in the New Year.

The days and weeks leading up to it we had planned to do everything from going to fancy bars, fancy dinners, clubs, you name it. However on New Year’s Eve, we were so tired we almost did not end up going anywhere at all.

We finally went to Chinatown and bumped into some co-workers, we ate briefly and decided we would walk to the Old Port to see the fireworks but we were too tired to make it up the hill so we decided to hop the metro to get a coffee at Tim Hortons instead. However, when we arrived, we realized we had missed the countdown by three minutes and the New Year had already rung in.

Like many people, I made resolutions and goals for the upcoming year. This was my year to shine! I had planned to go everywhere from Spain to England, Paris and Italy. I was going to get my scripts published and see the world.

Then it happened. The Coronavirus at first started off small. We heard about it, but as far as we knew, it was just a very heavy strain of the flu.

Despite the grumblings about this virus, I was still ready and willing to go on my voyage. I was lucky that I was able to take a trip earlier in the year to Boston without not too much fuss so I thought this would just be another forgotten virus that we would soon forget like SARS and the Bird Flu.

Then overnight it happened. Travel bans were in place. “Damn,” I thought there goes my trips.

Not long after that social distancing was introduced and stores were closed and so started our hell with this Coronavirus. Overnight our lives were crippled, many people lost their jobs, we couldn’t enjoy the basics like going to the movies or seeing our friends and families.

Even worse, people were dying and in large numbers. People were losing family members and couldn’t even bury their dead. It seemed night after night there was more devastation and the numbers kept climbing.

Would there be an end to this madness? Then there would be one tragedy after the next a mass shooting in Nova Scotia, the Royal Canadian Air Force crash and the snowbirds falling from the sky.

At this point, we all but wrote off this horrible year. Most people I knew could not be happy enough for 2020 to end and it was not even six months in yet.

Then, on May 25th Mr. George Floyd probably got up in the morning and went about his daily routine. I do not imagine that he ever imagined that it would be his last day on earth. I do not think that he could imagine the impact of his last 8:46 seconds would have on the world.

It’s no secret that racism against black people has always plagued America and countries throughout the world. Over the years there have been countless killings of unarmed black men, women and children by the police and by white supremacist and each time, there has been upset among people and sometimes mass protest becasuse of what has happened.

This time it’s different. Never before has the world erupted in unanimous protest over racism.

All across the world from England to Japan, Germany, Italy, Canada and of course the USA, many have taken a stand on racism. Not only have world leaders and celebrities taken a stand, but people who have never spoken out now have.

No Mas! Black Lives Matter! No Justice No Peace has been the sentiment that has been echoed across the world. Could it be that finally people the world over have seen and finally understand what has gone on for hundreds of years to Black Americans?

So, 2020 started horribly and has been a year full of hardship, sorrow and pains. The death of George Floyd broke our hearts, but could this horrible year, 2020, the year that no one will forget, be the year that one man’s last 8:46 managed to change the world?

Maybe 2020 will not be only remembered for the horrible Coronavirus that crippled the world but it will be also remembered for the 8:46 that changed it too!

Rest in peace Mr. Floyd because your death was not in vain.

Small outdoor gatherings in backyards or parks will be permitted in Quebec as of this Friday, May 22nd. They can have no more than ten people who come from a maximum of three households

Quebec Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault, sitting in for Premier François Legault at the government’s daily COVID-19 briefing, made the announcement and stressed that we were not at the stage where parties and indoor gatherings could start up again. While she understands that, in some cases, guests may go indoors to use the washroom or change a baby, she urged people to not move indoors as a group when it gets late and colder, instead people should head home.

Guilbault also said that people who don’t live together need to maintain two meter distance from each other at these gatherings and urged people to wear masks when not at home as much as possible. This change may be reversed if a new outbreak happens and is Quebec-wide.

Home healthcare providers province-wide will also be able to resume operations as of June 1. Same for personal care businesses such as hair salons everywhere in Quebec outside of the Greater Montreal Area and Joliette.

Guilbault said that a re-opening date for personal care businesses in Montreal and Joliette will follow. Non-essential retail businesses not located in shopping malls or with a private street entrance will be allowed to re-open in the Greater Montreal Area this coming Monday, May 25.

Watch the full press conference with Guilbault and National Director of Public Health Horacio Arruda

Montreal will be temporarily converting 327 kilometers of city streets into what the city is calling the Safe Active Transportation Circuit. These will last throughout the summer and possibly into the fall, depending on the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic and containment efforts.

At a press conference this morning alongside Éric Alan Caldwell, the Executive Committee member in charge of mobility, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante spoke of a bike ride she took down Christophe-Colomb Avenue with her kids. Despite few cars on the street, cyclists and pedestrians were all crammed together trying to respect social distancing guidelines.

According to Plante, this plan will increase the space available to pedestrians and cyclists and allow them to travel while respecting the two meter rule. It will link parks, residential streets and commercial arteries and encourage people to shop and enjoy nature locally as much as possible.

Plante noted that businesses will benefit because there will be more place outside for people to line up two meters apart as pedestrians and cyclists pass by. She also said that this plan will allow for more terrasse space for restaurant and bar patrons to spread out if and when the provincial government allows those type of businesses to re-open.

When a reporter asked Plante if pulling back some of the regulations that limit drinking alcohol outside, the Mayor said that while alcohol regulations aren’t under municipal jurisdiction, it’s always good to think outside the box.

Caldwell stressed that the city took into account bus and truck delivery routes when planning this circuit. While admitting it will limit car travel with less space available to vehicles, both he and the mayor pointed out that there are fewer cars on the road already due to the pandemic.

Here’s the video the city released:

Quebec Premier François Legault is in Montreal today. Speaking alongside Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, Quebec’s National Director for Public Health Horacio Arruda, Public Health Regional Director Mylène Drouin and Transport Minister François Bonnardel, he announced that Montreal-area schools won’t re-open until the fall.

Primary schools across Quebec, excluding the Greater Montreal Area, re-opened on Monday, with Montreal expected to follow on May 25th provided COVID-19 numbers were dropping on par with World Health Organization criteria for deconfinement. With over 20 000 people infected, they aren’t and Montreal has become Canada’s epicenter for the virus, so it will be late August and September before any schools re-open here.

Pushing re-opening back a few weeks only to close them when the school year ends mid-June would have made no sense according to Legault. Daycares that don’t run on the same school year may re-open June 1, provided Coronavirus containment conditions are met.

Non-essential retail businesses not located in malls or in malls with a separate street entrance in Montreal could possibly re-open on May 25th as planned. That date may, of course, be pushed back.

When they do re-open, though, there will inevitably be more people using public transit. Legault announced that Quebec will assist Montreal in providing masks for commuters, which Plante welcomed.

The Premier and his colleagues have been recommending people wear face coverings whenever they leave their home for a few days now, and in particular when they ride public transit. While they won’t rule out making masks mandatory on transit at some point in the future, we’re not there yet.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic due to the Corona virus aka COVID-19. Montreal is not only the epicenter of the outbreak in Quebec, but in all of Canada.

In a move that Montrealers have been begging for since Quebec Premier François Legault announced his harebrained idea of reopening the province on May 11, he has agreed to delay reopening schools and businesses in Montreal until May 25, 2020, and only if the situation here has improved. The decision was made in consultation with Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s National Director of Public Health.

Parents in Montreal can finally breathe a sigh of relief, as reopening too early would only lead to a resurgence of the disease that would overwhelm hospitals already overworked and rapidly reaching capacity. David McLeod told this reporter that if elementary schools did reopen in Montreal on May 19 as planned he and his wife would not be sending their son:

“If we did it would be a prison we would be sending him to, not a school. It is a place for people to park their kids.”

Wendy, a mother with diabetes, had also decided to keep her son at home, declaring that he is not a guinea pig for the government. She worries that her son would pass the virus on to her with fatal results.

Parents were not the only ones worried. Educators in Montreal, who agreed to speak to me on condition of anonymity, were deeply concerned about the health, sanitation, and logistical nightmare of reopening the schools and daycares.

“It takes the whole summer for administration to organize class kits and teacher schedules. It’s not as simple as putting a teacher in a room with 8-15 kids,” said an elementary school teacher. “The school buses usually have 60-80 kids and now they’ll be only 12 kids on one bus…will there be enough busses for everyone?”

She expressed concern that keeping a two meter distance from students would make it harder for teachers to help them, adding that the problem would be worse for kids with ADHD.

A Montreal high school teacher expressed concern that Legault’s plan lacked clarity. She countered the Premier’s claim of reopening the schools for students’ mental health by pointing out that kids have more freedom of movement if they stay home. She also says it’s still not clear whether teaching high school has to be face-to-face or if content can just be posted for students to look at at their own speed.

“Lucy” a daycare educator, told me her loved ones were terrified of her going back to work. The stress of staying clean and safe scares her too, comparing a return to work to “going to war with no gun”.

“Mary”, another daycare educator thinks even reopening Montreal on May 25th is ridiculous.

“You know there’s been an outbreak in a daycare, right?” she said, referring to the recent COVID-19 outbreak at a daycare in Montreal North. “We will be wearing visors at my daycare. Can you imagine a child coming in after months and meeting a monster with a blue face and visors? I don’t see how this will not be damaging to the child,” she said.

As a member of the immune-compromised in one of the hardest hit boroughs in Montreal I have my own worries about what reopening schools will mean for my personal safety. I live within walking distance of two elementary schools, one high school, and one school for students with special needs.

My chronic medical conditions put me on the “Most Likely to Die from COVID-19” list, thus making leaving my home incredibly unsafe until the virus is contained. Reopening the schools would make it more likely that I could fall victim to the pandemic, and with hospitals overcrowded, there’s no guarantee I’d get the help I need.

Even former Montreal Canadien Georges Laraque sees the absurdity of the Quebec government’s initial decision, and though he himself has COVID-19, he was live streaming about his experience in our health care system from his hospital room.

Some parents are calling the change of heart a lot more sensible. Others think Legault’s initial plan of reopening Montreal was a business-oriented decision that showed the lack common sense people have come to expect from his government.

Whatever the reason, Montreal can at least be thankful that common sense has prevailed and that active resistance works. We just have to be loud enough.

Schools and non-essential retail businesses across Quebec are re-opening today, except those in the Greater Montreal Area. While schools in the 514, 438 and 450 area codes are on track to re-open in two weeks, Montreal-area businesses will not re-open on May 11th as planned, but May 18th.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced during the government’s regular COVID-19 briefing today that he was pushing back re-opening Montreal because Montreal-area hospitals were getting crowded. He noted that there are still beds available in Quebec’s largest city and coronavirus epicenter, but not enough to re-open in a week.

This decision comes amid a rise in virus transmission in Montreal Nord. Legault said that there is not enough leeway in Montreal to deconfine as planned as there is in other regions of Quebec.

He also updated his original two world view. Now, Legault says there are three Quebecs: inside seniors’ residences, Montreal and everywhere else.

Re-opening the manufacturing and construction sectors are happening as planned, even in the Greater Montreal Area.

Quebec will be re-opening some parts of its economy during the month of May. The province, at this point, will not be relaxing social distancing rules imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic overall and will impose new regulations on businesses when the re-open.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced the plan in general at the government’s daily press briefing before passing it over to Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade with the details. So far there are three sectors re-opening:

  • Retail Stores: Retail businesses that are not located inside a shopping mall or businesses inside a mall but with a separate entrance will be allowed to open on May 4th across Quebec with the exception of the Greater Montreal Area and on May 11th in Montreal and its surroundings. Stores will remain closed on Sundays until May 31st.
  • Manufacturing: Manufacturing businesses across Quebec can open May 11th. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees working per day can re-open with full staff. Those with over 50 daily employees can open with 50 employees plus half the remaining staff. On May 25th, manufacturing businesses can open with full staff regardless of the size of the staff.
  • Construction: Construction businesses across Quebec can re-open May 11th.

Legault repeated remarks he made yesterday when talking about re-opening some schools as a justification for re-opening parts of the economy with COVID deaths and hospitalizations still on the rise. While situation is still dire in seniors’ residences, the population overall, excluding that sector, has been flattening the curve.

No word yet on when sit-down restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses where social distancing could prove difficult may re-open. The government did say that they will be making other announcements at later dates.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced that Quebec will be re-opening primary schools and childcare services across the province but excluding the Greater Montreal Area on May 11th and then in Montreal and the 450 area codes on May 19th. High schools and post-secondary education institutions will only re-open for in-person classes in the fall as most currently offer online courses.

In his daily press briefing on Quebec’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Legault stressed that attendance will be optional and urged children with health issues or children of parents with health issues to stay home. He also noted that this plan will only go into effect if Quebec’s Coronavirus numbers continue on their current trajectory.

In the past 24 hours, Quebec reported 23 new COVID-19 hospitalizations, 84 new deaths and five fewer people in intensive care. Legault noted that most of the increase is happening in seniors’ residences, which is the focus of the province’s fight against the pandemic.

Legault said that it’s like we’re living in “two fifferent worlds” when comparing long-term care facilities to the rest of Quebec society. This is how the government is justifying opening up parts of society a bit.

Legault said that re-opening schools is for societal reasons as well as to prevent kids with learning disabilities from being away from their teachers for too long. The premier stressed that “heard immunity” wasn’t a principal reason behind the move.

Tomorrow Quebec will announce its timetable for re-opening businesses.

This summer was supposed to be the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival’s 30th anniversary edition. Now, due to COVID-19, the celebration and theatrical performances by hundreds of groups and performers originally scheduled to run June 1-21 will have to wait until next summer.

“I sincerely feel that as leaders in the Montreal cultural landscape, it is our responsibility to temporarily close our spaces and to postpone the Fringe Festival in order to protect the health and of our artists and patrons,” the festival’s Executive and Artistic Director Amy Blackmore said in a press release. “The conditions for in-person art-making and consumption amid this crisis are significantly challenging since many are unable to rehearse, have been laid off from work and are trying to manage shifting priorities.”

MainLine Theatre, which produces the festival, will also keep its performance and rehearsal space on St-Laurent Boulevard closed until May 31st as per public health directives. The festival will offer alternate online programming this June in place of the public theatre shows.

The Fringe is generally the event that kicks off Montreal’s jam-packed festival season. This year it is the first major summer arts festival to postpone or cancel due to COVID-19.

We will update you if any other arts events follow suit.

American friends, in particular those choosing a Democratic candidate for President, something’s been bugging me about the debates I’ve been watching. It’s the rhetoric attacking Medicare for All.

In particular, it’s the concept that if you don’t make government-funded healthcare just one option among many private options, you will be unfairly taking something away from people. While the impetus for politicians to make such arguments clearly lies in the fear of losing donor money, those who believe their logic most likely do so out of a real fear of losing something they actually need or like.

I suspect it’s due to a fundamental conceptual misunderstanding of how Medicare for All works. With that in mind, I’d like to explain, or Canadian-splain if you will, how Universal Healthcare works here in Canada.

It’s in the Cards

All Canadians are entitled to a Medicare Card. They are issued by the government of the province you live in.

These cards need to be renewed at a minimal cost. The specifics vary from province to province, but they’re all in the same range.

In Quebec, where I live, renewal is every four to eight years and costs $25. If you move to a different province, you have to prove residency to get a new card.

Having lost my card once at the same time I moved, I know all too well that you really have to prove who you are and where you live. Given that your health card also serves as a photo ID for things like voting, it’s good to know that this is a secure system.

It’s Really Quite Simple

With the card, you can walk into any hospital you want and get the treatment you need. There’s no such thing as “out of network” or a “deductible” here.

When it comes to family doctors, you choose the one you want. They still have to accept you as a patient, but your bank balance won’t be a factor.

When you arrive at the hospital or the doctor’s office, they swipe your card, treat you and send the bill to the appropriate provincial government. The provinces administer and directly pay for the healthcare system with the help of transfer payments from the Federal Government, as universal coverage is mandated by the Canada Health Act.

It’s important to note that the cost of procedures the government pays for is standardized here. Given the fact that hospitals in the US can currently charge whatever they want, I get why the prospect of universal coverage may erroneously seem too pricey to many.

What’s Covered and What’s Not

In Canada, Medicare covers everything from AIDS and Cancer treatment and gunshot wounds to non life-threatening stuff like sprained ankles. While medicine you get when in a hospital is covered, prescription drugs you take after aren’t (except for in some cases like people on welfare), but they are considerably less expensive than in the US.

We also don’t cover dental care or surgery considered cosmetic. It’s interesting to note that the Medicare for All plan Bernie Sanders is proposing does cover dental as well as home healthcare and, from the looks of it, a better plan than Canada currently has.

In our recent election, one party, the NDP, was pushing for Universal Dentalcare and prescription drug coverage, but they lost to (everyone outside of Canada’s favourite Liberal) Justin Trudeau. While he’s not for expanding the Canada Health Act, he wouldn’t dare suggest scrapping it, and neither would our most right-wing politicians.

Currently, for stuff like dental, we still have private and workplace insurance. I seriously doubt that if our government started funding dental or pharmacare, people would fear losing their private insurance.

A Different Mindset

That’s because you don’t have to give up any treatment with Medicare for All. If your system turns out anything like ours, the only thing people will lose is the cost.

If people “like their insurance” what they really like is the healthcare they get. And they’ll still get the same healthcare.

Yes, treatment will be prioritized for those who need it most and then for those who arrived first. It’s possible a millionaire will have to wait in line behind a minimum wage worker and someone on welfare if all three require the same care at the same urgency, but that’s how it should be.

When you stop seeing healthcare as a commodity and instead see it as an essential public service, like the fire department or the roads, you’ll realize that you aren’t giving up anything with Medicare for All.

Featured image of a Medicare for All Rally in Los Angeles 2017 by Molly Adams via Flickr Creative Commons

Adapted from Eileen Atkin’s 1994 play of the same name, Vita and Virginia is based on the real-life romance between aristocratic socialite and author Vita Sackville-West and literary icon Virginia Woolf. With a scandalous romance, the glamour of the 1920s, and famous works of literature, Vita and Virginia’s story in the right hands could have been a very special film. Unfortunately, despite some strong acting and beautiful cinematography, this film is an uneven mess that never quite comes together.

When we first meet Vita (Gemma Arterton) it’s hammered into us that she’s a thoroughly modern woman; she drives her own car, wears pants, declares proudly that “Independence has no sex.” When Vita goes to a party hosted by, as her mother (Isabella Rosselini) describes,  “bohemian communist socialists” that she meets the elusive Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki). 

It’s made clear from their first meeting that their relationship will be a sexual one; Vita observes Virginia dancing from across the room with a decidedly male gaze. Virginia, as the object of desire, acknowledges that gaze and welcomes it.

Arterton and Debicki do what they can to save the film with their performances. Arterton is more than capable of showcasing the charm and insatiable lust of Vita, who while in an open marriage, had affairs with both men and women alike. And Debicki (who should have broken out after the criminally under-seen Widows) gives the strongest performance in the film. She is so good here she makes you forget all about a certain Australian actress who won an Oscar for portraying the same woman.

But despite these performances, the film falls apart under the direction of Chanya Button. While the melodic electro score (by Isobel Waller-Bridge) is beautiful and perhaps meant to show these women were not of their time, it takes you out of the story. The same goes for the decision to have the women read their letters to each other aloud while looking directly at the camera. It’s overly stagey and completely unnecessary. 

And then there’s the magical realism that’s thrown in to show Virginia’s increasingly unstable mental state. If it had been used all throughout the film perhaps it would have made more sense, but only used a few times it doesn’t work. Not to mention that Debicki is a more than capable performer who could have showcased Virginia’s bipolar disorder without a scene where a flock of birds who aren’t really there attack her.

The real-life Vita and Virginia continued a friendship long after their romance fizzled, until Virginia’s death in 1941, which for some reason, Button decided not to mention in the final title card was a suicide, although Virginia talks about death throughout the film.

Their relationship inspired one of Virginia’s most popular books, Orlando. If you’re curious about these fascinating women and their influence on each other, I recommend you read that book (or see the 1992 Tilda Swinton film adaptation) instead.